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Many people wonder whether relapse is part of recovery for a drug or alcohol addiction (we’ve actually written about that here), so this article will go some way to answering that question, and looking at the wider cycle of addiction so you can better understand how it all fits together…

The first thing to answer is: “what is the addiction cycle”? And there are six parts that make up the cycle in its entirety.

  • Initial use
  • Abuse
  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Addiction
  • Relapse

In the sections below, we will look at each of these parts of the addiction cycle.

Initial use

Many people experiment using alcohol at some point in their life, as it is often seen as a way of socialising as an adult. The same can be said for drugs to a lesser extent, as they are less widely available and are not regulated and sold the same way.

But after this first use, it could at some point lead to addiction if there is no controlled use of the substance by the user. In combination with certain risk factors (a family member with an alcohol or drug dependency, a health concern, difficult upbringing or home environment, etc.) this can put a person at higher risk of developing an addiction.

However, one use does not equate to an addiction (at least in the case of alcohol), so we need to look further into the rest of the cycle to understand more.

Struggling with an addiction? Contact Delamere


At what point does use become abuse? This is when the substance gets used on a regular and improper basis; in a way that can be defined as ‘harmful’. Taking certain drugs that can be categorised as abusive from the very first use: heroin or methamphetamine fall into this classification.

Alcohol and tobacco are a little harder to categorise, but in general, an addiction would be when there is a craving for the euphoria, high, or numbing feeling that comes with using the substance, as opposed to just using it for casual socialising, or a complementary pairing with a meal.


After a prolonged use of a drug, a user may find that they are taking increased dosages and upping the amount of times they use a substance. This is because the body can become accustomed to the substance over time, meaning it is not as impactful at creating the ‘feeling’ that the addict is craving.

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After tolerance comes dependence, which is when the body ‘needs’ the drug to continue to operate or function properly.


According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), there are 11 signs and symptoms of addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol:

  1. Using more of the substance than the person originally planned
  2. Being unable to stop using the substance
  3. Experiencing relationship problems based on substance use
  4. Spending large amounts of time seeking or using the substance, or recovering from use
  5. Reducing participation in favorite activities in favor of substance use
  6. Being unable to keep up with daily responsibilities due to substance use
  7. Craving the substance
  8. Continuing to use the substance despite negative health effects
  9. Regularly using the substance in dangerous situations (while driving or operating machinery, etc.)
  10. Developing tolerance for the substance, as described above
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped

A higher number of signs and symptoms reported for a single user would indicate the severity of the addiction.


In between addiction and relapse, there is technically another step: recovery. However, this does not last for every addict who attempts to recover from their unhealthy reliance on a substance. We’ve written about relapse rates in addiction recovery in more detail if you’re interested to learn more about that.

If you would like to speak to the team at Delamere about a recovery renewal retreat, you can call our admissions team to book a place for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with addiction relapse.

Struggling with an addiction? Contact Delamere